G-Wiz in the Garden of Good and Evil | Wizards Blog Truth About It.net

G-Wiz in the Garden of Good and Evil

Updated: May 2, 2015

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Earlier this week on his podcast, Bill Simmons and guest Brian Windhorst gave voice to what many Wizards fans are thinking but too scared to say out loud: “There might be something special developing in Washington.”

Of course, it’s easy for the national media to jump on Washington’s bandwagon. They are not haunted by the curse O’ Les Boulez. Optimism does not come as freely to long-suffering Wizards watchers. Every positive thought is met with a reminder of past failures, like an angel and devil sitting on our shoulders. As Washington prepares to face the #1 seeded Atlanta Hawks with a trip to the Eastern Conference Finals on the line, TAI’s Adam Rubin channels his inner angel while while TAI’s Sean Fagan does the same with his more nefarious side.

Adam Rubin (@LedellsPlace)

It’s tempting to write off Washington’s current playoff run as a reboot of the unexpected yet ultimately disappointing 2014 post-season. Deadspin’s Albert Burneko neatly laid out the parallels (underwhelming regular season, followed by surprising domination of higher seeded playoff team, followed by growing media hype, followed by a second round matchup against a struggling 1-seed, followed by an uninspiring loss.)

But there’s a fatal flaw in that groundhog’s day narrative and his name is John Wall. Last year, Wall was not ready for primetime. He had a great season but had not yet developed the former-Rondo-esque ability to impose his will on a playoff game by controlling the pace from opening tip to final buzzer.

Indiana defenders went under picks and baited Wall into driving into the congested paint where they gobbled him up as his teammates stood idly by, motionless on the wings. The offense ground to a halt for minutes—and even entire quarters—at a time.

This season Wall is an entirely different player. Remember when he used to end every pick-and-roll by jumping in the air with nowhere to pass the ball? That was a staple of his offense, happened half a dozen times each game and too often, resulted in a turnover. Those moments have become more rare, especially with the floor spread wide open in Washington’s shiny new stretch offense.

Now, Wall probes the defense, maintains his dribble and—on the rare occasions when he leaves his feet to pass—he does so purposefully, with the foresight required to shift the defense, knowing in advance exactly where the ball is going.

That is the version of John Wall that will be leading the charge against the Atlanta Hawks. Atlanta had a spectacular regular season fueled by a well-oiled motion offense. However, the Hawks’ historic win total and four All-Star nods (Jeff Teague, Al Horford, Paul Millsap and Kyle Korver) mask the reality that Atlanta is a team without a superstar. Whether that matters is one of those eternal debates the answer to which is forgotten each time a team without a superstar succeeds over a team that has one.

Long-time San Antonio assistant Mike Budenholzer may have replicated the Spurs offense in Georgia, but it’s not like he cloned Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili. John Wall will be the best player in the series, just like he was against Toronto. If Kenny and Chuck have taught us anything, it’s that superstars do matter in the playoffs.

And it doesn’t stop with Wall. As Simmons and Windhorst noted, top-to-bottom, Washington may have more talent on its roster. This is even more evident when you consider health, as two of the Hawks best players, Horford and Millsap, are not 100 percent. And then, of course, there’s Thabo Sefolosha, who allegedly had his leg broken by the New York Police Department and won’t be available until next season.

One other factor in Washington’s favor is time. The Toronto sweep gave Randy Wittman a full week to prepare. As Sports on Earth’s Michael Pina explained, during that time Brooklyn has provided a blueprint for success against the Hawks; namely, (i) overplay Korver at all times; and (ii) swing the ball against the Hawks’ trapping defense. The Wizards employed a similar defensive scheme against Toronto’s Lou Williams, denying him the ball anywhere approaching the 3-point line.

If you asked me two weeks ago I would have said the Wizards did not have anyone on their roster who can shadow Korver for 40 minutes per game. I would have said the same about DeMar DeRozan at the outset of the Raptors series. But then “Playoff Otto Porter” happened. If Otto can shut down DeRozan, then he may be able to utilize that length to disrupt Korver’s rhythm jumpers, which are an important part of Budenholzer’s system. Cut off Korver and the vaunted Hawks offense sputters.

As for swinging the ball, that’s easy. Nobody does it better than Wall. If Atlanta sends hard traps on pick-and-rolls—which they are known to do—Wall is perfectly capable of threading the needle to the roll man, skipping the ball cross-court for corner 3-pointers or, when the trap is not air-tight, turning the corner and wreaking havoc in the lane.

As an added bonus, in the Raptors series Marcin Gortat showed a greatly improved ability to quickly hit perimeter shooters with a secondary pass when he is the roll man. And if Atlanta had trouble containing slow-footed Brook Lopez, wait until they start absorbing body blows from a relaxed and well-rested Nene.

All this, and I haven’t even gotten to Paul Pierce.

This could be a new dawn for Wall and the Wizards—one that felt like midnight two weeks ago. Randy Wittman, that old playful possum, finally has the team playing like it should and the Wizards are rolling—right past the Atlanta Hawks and into the Eastern Conference Finals.

Sean Fagan (@McCarrick):

It is fascinating to point to Bill Simmons as your first point of reference because upon perusing Simmons’ Friday basketball column I got an eerie sense of déjà vu. Trying to coin a phrase, Simmons’ wrote about “Checkers or Chess Wittman” and how #PlayoffWittman was an actual real thing, that overnight he had somehow managed to imbibe competency juice and was finally running an offense that less resembled a bird hopping around with one broken wing and more of the high octane offense that had been promised in the earlier portion of the season.

I was a tad freaked out because on this very site, I used “Checkers or Chess” Wittman last year (at roughly the same juncture) to point out how ill-equipped the Wizards were to defeat the Chicago Bulls and the superior coaching of Tom Thibodeau. Though the Wizards won that series, they did so despite Wittman, as the Bulls offensive, anemic nest was revealed to a national audience. I am going to double down on last year (and the present) by stating that Checkers or Chess Wittman still exists, but it does so in that Wittman is no Mike Budenholzer. In fact, Randy Wittman isn’t 44 percent of Mike Budenholzer. As quick as we are to laud the fact that Wittman suddenly understands that three points are more than two and that he should run the offense through his two gifted guards, the Wizards exist in a state where they have been running their newfangled offense for all of two weeks. The Hawks, by contrast, have had all season to tear through the league with their pinpoint system. Mike Budenholzer coached a team that went toe-to-toe with the historically ascendant Golden State Warriors. Randy Wittman coached a team that looked lifeless against the likes of the Sacramento Kings and dropped multiple games to patsies like the Minnesota Timberwolves and Philadelphia 76ers.

But wait you cry, what about Playoff Otto Porter and the Ageless Paul Pierce? Surely they are a force to be reckoned with against a banged up Hawks team that had made more headline lately for a) injuries sustained during an encounter with the NYPD and b) allowing the Brooklyn Nets to take them to six games. Well, I would point to the fact that you are selling the most spurious of snake oil to impressionable young Wizards fans. Porter was a revelation in Round One, but I doubt the Hawks scouting staff has been idle as their team finished off the Nets. Unleashing Porter on the Raptors was a neat trick, (perhaps the best of #PlayoffWittman’s Sun Tzu-like run) but one that you can only use once. I expect the Hawks to counter Porter with a healthy dose of DeMarre Carroll and run him through enough screens that he will be begging to put his glasses back on.

As for Pierce, what worlds are there left for him to conquer? He has left an indelible mark on his career after his performance against the Raptors and has little left to prove. Further, the best part of Pierce’s game, his ability to needle opponents and their respective fanbases, is rendered moot against the Hawks. How do you annoy a fanbase that has only recently become existent? How do you get in the heads of veterans like Al Horford and Paul Millsap, who by all accounts run the Hawks like a suburban family and are unlikely to to take umbrage at Pierce’s barbs? Without a target, Pierce has nothing to feed on and at some point the wheels will fall of the 37-year-old bus.

Finally, lets get to the crux of your argument on which everything hinges. The Wizards have John Wall, you say, and that will be enough no matter the circumstance. This is all fine and good, as Wall has been transcendent this year, and he obviously outplayed his counterpart in Kyle Lowry in Round One. Lowry’s series was so dismal that it had multiple reporters discussing how Raptors GM Masai Ujiri was looking into dismantling his team. Well, Wall may be the best player by a country mile on both the Hawks and the Wizards, but he is still vulnerable to opposing point guards, especially those who excel from behind the arc. Toronto with an ailing and flailing Lowry had nothing to counteract Wall. Atlanta can unleash not one but two great guards in Jeff Teague and Dennis Schröder to hound Wall and make him expend extra energy on the defensive end. And after Wall, who is left to counter the hydra of the Hawks backcourt? Ramon Sessions? I weep to think of Sessions getting lost in transition and having Schroder find Kyle Korver in the corner for yet another academic 3.

The Wizards were fun in the first round, but let us not forget that it was akin to watching two wounded animals fighting to overcome their inherent weaknesses. One flawed team (the Wizards) exposed another flawed team (the Raptors) and suddenly we forget about February and March and the fiery psychic hellscape the Wizards created on offense. You believe Drew Gooden is really an answer? You expect that Kevin Seraphin is going to be able to put in positive minutes for two series in a row? I applaud your optimism, but I think you need to get your head examined. The Hawks, despite their injuries, have no flaws. They are a relentless offensive threshing machine and the Wizards are about to get ground to cornmeal.

Sometimes the Truth hurts.

Adam Rubin on EmailAdam Rubin on Twitter
Adam Rubin
Reporter / Writer at TAI
Adam grew up in the D.C. area and has been a Washington Bullets fan for over 25 years. He will not refer to the franchise as anything other than the Bullets unless required to do so by Truth About It editorial standards. Adam spent many nights at the Capital Centre in the ‘90s where he witnessed such things as Michael Jordan’s “LaBradford Smith game,” the inexcusable under-usage of Gheorghe Muresan’s unstoppable post moves, and the basketball stylings of Ledell Eackles.